Two war veterans who served in the Northern Marianas each received the World War II Medallion during a ceremony at the American Memorial Park on Saturday morning.
B-29 pilot Leroy Florence and Marine 4th Division's Hal Johnson were given the medallion, which features the WWII War in the Pacific emblem on one side and the official seals of the participating branches of service on the other side.
The medallion, a symbol of recognition and appreciation to veterans who served during the war that claimed thousands of lives of service members and civilians alike, was presented by CNMI Military and Veterans Affairs Office director Ben Camacho and VFW Post 3457 representatives.
Florence and Johnson were part of the Military Historical Tours, Inc. group, led by MHT director of operations John Powell, which visited the Commonwealth from March 6 to 9.
The group laid a wreath at the park's Court of Honor where “a memorial stands with flags waving over beautiful plaques of marble which contain the names of over 5,000 who died during the battles and subsequent air campaigns.”
Florence said that last week's visit is his first time to return to Saipan since the war. He first arrived as a lieutenant in the 878th Squadron, 499th Bomb Group in November 1944 and left in August 1945.
“It's an emotional time. I'm trying to remember what it was like at the time. This place was so different then from what it is now,” said the 92-year-old veteran.
After the war, Florence became a salesman before he started his own business of selling airplanes before shifting to the electronics industry.
“At the age of 72, I decided it's time to retire,” he added.
Florence noted that his trip was filled with “a lot of care” since a captain on United Airlines paved the way for the airline company to sponsor his trip. Other people also contributed for their accommodations, he added.
Johnson, for his part, said this is his second trip to Saipan since the war, having participated in the 50th anniversary celebration in 1995.
“It's pretty and developed. I just love it. It's a beautiful island. Everything is pretty and the people are nice,” he said.
While there have been a lot of changes since the war, Johnson said his war memories still remain vivid. “At night when you go to bed, you lay down and you bring pictures in your mind. It's sad.”
Johnson, who turned 90 on Sunday, and the rest of the group also stopped by the park museum where historian and author Don Farrell had a book signing.
The group left for Guam on March 9 en route to Iwo Jima, an island in Japan that was another battle site between the U.S. Armed Forces and Japanese soldiers.